Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Rivers Called Dangerous Playgrounds Cold Current Can Be Fatal; Experts Wear Life Jackets, Keep Alert

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Rivers Called Dangerous Playgrounds Cold Current Can Be Fatal; Experts Wear Life Jackets, Keep Alert

Article excerpt

Two drownings in two days in the scenic Meramec River point to how easily swimmers and boaters can underestimate its fast water and cold springs.

Keven G. Wilke, 40, the president of the Sunset Hills Board of Aldermen, drowned Sunday after he fell from a canoe into the Meramec near George Winter Park, about 15 miles southwest of St. Louis.

Timothy J. Crane, 27, of St. Charles, drowned Saturday while swimming in the Meramec near Meramec Caverns, about 60 miles southwest of St. Louis.

Neither man had been wearing a life jacket.

"Cold water and fast water make the Meramec a dangerous river even for good swimmers and boaters," said Cpl. Charles Bent with the Missouri State Water Patrol.

Bent said nearly twice as many people had drowned in the Meramec River in the last five years as in the state's part of the Missouri River. And more than half were experienced swimmers.

Cpl. Jim McDaniel of the State Water Patrol said that depending on rain the river could range in depth from knee-deep near Meramec State Park to 35 feet deep between Valley Park and Arnold. A year of flooding has rearranged sand bars, trees and old cars. Undertows, strong currents and murkiness add to the danger.

McDaniel said a relative was teaching Wilke to canoe so he could represent Sunset Hills in a mayors' Meramec canoe race. Friends said Wilke could not swim.

McDaniel said Wilke stood and fell from the canoe about 12:30 p.m. into a swift current in an area about 12 to 15 feet deep. Divers found Wilke's body about four hours later. The other man in his canoe was uninjured.

Wilke worked for Keller Laboratories as a supervisor of maintenance engineers. The company has set up a trust fund to pay for school for Wilke's children, Adam, 12, and Melissa, 15. Contributions may be sent to the Keven Wilke Scholarship Fund, in care of Cass Bank and Trust, P.O. Box 330 St. Louis, Mo. 63166-0330.

Authorities called Wilke's drowning accidental. They said alcohol played a role in Crane's drowning.

Chris Lane, 14, said he and three other Boy Scouts from troops in Sullivan and Robertsville, Mo. were canoeing near Meramec Caverns when they saw Crane bobbing in the water. …

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